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The mink is a semi-aquatic relative of the weasel.

It's a proficient swimmer, a territorial neighbor, and a surprisingly tenacious predator. This animal might not look like much of a fighter, but a mink can hunt prey nearly as big as it is. Even large carnivores have to be cautious about how they approach this rather rambunctious animal. Because of the amount of time it spends in the water, the mink has an oiled, waterproof coat. Its pelts are considered of such high quality that mink has been an important part of the fur trade for centuries. It is still kept in captivity around the world.

4 Mink Facts

  • In captivity, American mink are bred in early spring and then slaughtered at 6 to 8 months of age, when the fur has reached its peak quality. Captive mink can grow up to twice the size of wild mink thanks to better nutrition and selective breeding. They also come in a wider range of fur colors, including pearl, blue, and sapphire.
  • Mink are one of the main non-human carriers of the Covid-19 virus . The Danish state ordered the culling of their captive mink after discovering that a new strain of the virus was infecting the species and potentially spreading to a small number of people, but the effectiveness of the action is controversial and debated.
  • Like the closely related ferret, some people keep minks as pets , but due to their feral instincts and very specific needs, keeping them at home can be a great challenge.
  • Since the animal appears to be suffering psychologically from being held in captivity, animal rights activists are protesting on behalf of the animals, demanding better living arrangements.

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scientific name

Mink isolated on white background
The American mink was once considered part of the Mustela genus, but was eventually given its own classification

© Eric Isselee/Shutterstock.com

There are currently two recognized species in the world. Mustela lutreola , or European mink, actually belongs to the same genus as weasel, while Neovison vison , or American mink, is the only extant member of that genus. Both species were once classified in the mustelid genus, but taxonomists believe that the American mink exhibited enough divergence to warrant classification as a separate genus. The genus Neovison once had two members, but the sea mink or Neovison macrodon was driven to extinction in the early 20th century.

The origins of the genus names Neovison and Mustela are quite different. Neovison can be broken down into neo (Greek, meaning new) and vison (French, meaning mink or weasel), and Mustela is just the Latin word for weasel. Both species belong to the weasel family, along with badgers, wolverines and otters. In fact, this creature is often mistaken for an otter because they share very similar semi-aquatic habitats and lifestyles.


Some 26 to 29 million years ago, during the middle to late Oligocene, the first mustelids roamed the North American state of Oregon. Known as Corumictis wolsani , it is similar in size to the smallest weasel, the smallest member of the Weasel genus.

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During the Miocene epoch, about 16 million years ago, the weasel family emerged. A member of this family, the mink belongs to the same genera as ferrets, skunks, and weasels.


Pine marten standing in a tree, Canada.
mink considered similar to mink

The mink is an animal that looks very similar to the closely related weasel or mink. It has a long, lithe body with a pointed nose, round ears, short legs and flippers. The thick waterproof oily fur is dark brown or black (although albino and tan mutations do occur in the wild). Members of most European species have white markings on the chin and lips, with additional white spots on the throat, stomach, and chest, while only some members of American species display the same markings. If the specimen is completely devoid of white markings, it is almost certainly an American mink. The outer layer of the coat consists of guard hair, which is three times denser than the fur of the closely related ferret. Each guard hair is also surrounded by many smaller hairs.

American is usually the larger of the two species. It weighs 1.5 to 3.5 pounds and is 18 to 28 inches long (half of which is just the tail). Europeans, on the other hand, weigh 1 to 1.6 pounds and are 12 to 15 inches long. Both species are much smaller than otters but about the same size as ferrets. On average, women tend to be smaller than men.


Mink vs. Weasel
Minks are active at dawn and dusk and are naturally solitary

©Aleksandra Saveljeva/Shutterstock.com

A mink's entire lifestyle revolves around the ability to switch between terrestrial and aquatic locomotion at any time. With their incredibly webbed feet, minks are fast and agile animals in the water. It can swim to depths of 100 feet, but almost never ventures off land. Unlike the closely related otter, the mink swims high above the water, forming a V-shaped wave with its snout. When it's not in the water, the mink walks on the ground in a hopping or leaping motion. It can also climb trees to chase prey or escape danger.

Mink is a well known twilight species. It is very active at dawn and dusk as it searches for prey. It also tends to spend the rest of the night in some capacity. Aside from the relationship between a mother and her offspring, the mink is an animal with no social organization to speak of. Instead, it lives and hunts almost entirely by itself, and tolerates the presence of other minks only during the breeding season.

Mink are very aggressive towards other members of their species that invade their territory. Males are especially vicious toward other males, because other males have nothing to offer them but extra competition. Men are generally more tolerant towards women. In fact, male and female territories sometimes overlap each other.

Mink's vision and hearing are very well developed, but the main mode of communication is smell. Enlarged anal glands produce a rather pungent odor to mark territory to warn potential intruders. Minks rarely vocalize, except to express their agitation or displeasure.

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Young mink on a log
The mink has several nests throughout its wide range

©Aleksandra Saveljeva/Shutterstock.com

Mink are geographically distributed between North America and Europe. The American mink is found in almost all of Canada and the United States except for the extreme Arctic and the hot Southwest. The European mink once occupied a large range almost all of Europe, but due to decades of population decline, it is now only found in small areas of its former territory. It has almost completely disappeared from Western and Central Europe.

Mink are well adapted to lakes, ponds, rivers and streams with extensive tree cover. Their homes consist of hollow legs or underground burrows lined with grass, leaves or the fur of their prey. Minks often have multiple dens around their extensive territories.

diet and predators

The creature is a very agile hunter, sometimes capable of killing animals larger than itself, but it is not an apex predator. Several other carnivores are higher up the food chain.

What do minks eat?

Oriental cottontail rabbit in the grass
Minks prefer rabbits


These animals will hunt almost any small to medium prey that lurks around freshwater shores: mice, rabbits, muskrats, fish, frogs, snakes, crayfish, and even waterfowl. Sometimes they also supplement their diet with small amounts of plant matter. Their primary hunting tactic is to hide behind their prey and snap it by the neck. If the animal is too big to finish a meal, the mink will store the leftovers in its den for safekeeping.

What do minks eat?

Coyote in the sun
Coyotes happen to find mink tasty

©Mircea Costina/Shutterstock.com

Mink provide an attractive meal for a variety of large predators including coyotes, bobcats, wolves, foxes and scops owls. Despite their ferocity, many animals eventually fall prey to predators before dying of natural causes.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

american mink
Minks can give birth to one to eight pups at a time

© Inspiration/Shutterstock.com

It is a promiscuous animal that likes to hook up with multiple mating partners throughout the breeding season (which usually occurs in February and March). The scent of the anal glands is thought to play an integral role in attracting and securing a mate. After the pair mates, the female has the ability to delay implantation by up to two weeks, resulting in a longer-than-expected reproductive cycle. American and European mink have similar gestation periods (40 to 75 days and 35 to 72 days, respectively).

At the end of the gestation period, the female gives birth to a litter of one to eight pups. Because the cubs are completely dependent and vulnerable (it takes several weeks for them to open their eyes), the mother must care for them without the help of their father. Pups are weaned between 6 and 10 weeks of age and start eating meat shortly thereafter. Both species reach sexual maturity at 10 to 12 months, but American mink take slightly longer than European mink to become fully independent. Both species live for about 10 years in the wild.


Mink vs. Weasel
American mink are more aggressive than European mink

© Gallinago_media/Shutterstock.com

American mink are classified as the species of least concern: the healthiest classification. On the other hand, the European mink is now critically endangered. Several explanations have been proposed to explain the sudden population decline, including habitat loss, overhunting, reduced prey, and competition with similar American mink, which escaped farms and invaded native habitats. The American mink is more aggressive and adaptable than the European mink, so it often ends up displacing it from the ecosystem.

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All efforts to save the European mink from extinction may require conservationists to reduce the number of American mink occupying the same territory. Unfortunately, American minks are very intelligent and resourceful and have thus far resisted many attempts to trap them. Another problem is that without understanding how to survive in the wild, many European mink raised in breeding programs and then released often end up dying.

As conservationists learn from these experiences and develop better strategies, they hope to reintroduce European mink to their former territories by seeding small founder populations across Europe. Freezing semen is sometimes used to improve genetic diversity. Mink FAQs

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Minks and fishing cats look very similar, but the average mink weighs only 2.5 pounds, while a male fishing cat often weighs over 13 pounds.

Mink is a semi-aquatic member of the Mustelidae family. It is sometimes confused with other closely related species, but the mink can often be distinguished by its webbed feet and distinctive swimming pattern.

Mink has a slender body, short legs, flat face, pointed snout, partially webbed feet, and dark brown or black fur.

What is the Difference Between Mink and Ferret?

Ferrets and minks are similar in size. The main difference is their lifestyle and habitat. Ferrets are great for land while minks are semi-aquatic. You can easily tell them apart at a glance because ferrets have some combination of black, white and gray fur.

What's the Difference Between a Mink and a Weasel?

Mink and weasel are so closely related: so much so that the two animals are very similar in size. But what distinguishes the mink from the true weasel is its aquatic lifestyle, webbed feet, and dark, oiled fur.

Ferrets pose no threat to humans, although their sharp teeth and claws can cause some injury. If anyone approaches it, the mink will almost certainly run away. But if you happen to see an injured mink, then you should call your local wildlife service and try not to handle it yourself unless absolutely necessary.

Minks are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.

Minks belong to the animal kingdom.

Mink can travel as fast as 4 miles per hour.

Both animals belong to the weasel family. However, they do not belong to the same subfamily; otters are in the subfamily Lutrinae, while minks are in the subfamily Mustelinae. In addition, otters and minks differ in size, range of motion and swimming style.

The main differences between mink and muskrat are appearance, size, diet, and social behavior. Typically, minks have a slender body, while muskrats are plump and potbellied. Furthermore, minks are carnivores and feed on small aquatic and terrestrial animals while muskrats are vegetarians. Finally, while minks are solitary animals, muskrats prefer to stay as a family.